A Parent’s Guide to Video Games {Book Review}

My husband is an avid video gamer. While he doesn’t get to play as much as he likes now that he’s a father, video games are still a big part of his life and how he chooses to spend his free time. We’ve often talked about how we should handle video games as our son gets older, which is why I was so excited to be contacted about reviewing “A Parent’s Guide to Video Games.”

The author, Dr. Rachel Kowert, is a gamer and a parent, as well as being a research psychologist, making her a knowledgeable and balanced guide. She covers the typical hot topics when it comes to video games, such as addiction, aggression, and sexism, and she dispels or confirms these concerns with research.

The book is visually appealing and quick to read. It is easily divided into one chapter per hot topic, making it easy to find information if you’re concerned that your child, say, might be addicted to video games. You can quickly find the chapter you want to read and get information on what the research says about that hot topic. As someone a 300-page parenting book on getting a baby to sleep, I very much appreciate the conciseness.

One of the main ideas is that so often we’re quick to point the finger at video games when in fact there could be much deeper factors at play. Take aggression and violence. When a terrible shooting takes place, the media (and society at large) is quick to point out the shooter’s love of violent video games.

It makes sense. When terrible tragedy strikes, we’re looking for answers. We want reassurance that our kids won’t grow up to be violent and cruel. However, the research just doesn’t show any correlation between youth violence (which is decreasing) and the rate of consumption of violent video games (which is increasing).

Dr. Kowert brings up a very good point that our brains are good at differentiating between real life and fantasy. To be honest, this idea was difficult for me. I don’t like violent video games and can’t understand why anyone would. (They probably don’t understand my book choices. Touche.) 

About a year ago, I read “Unbroken.” It’s about a U.S. soldier who was captured by Japan in World War II and held as a prisoner of war in a brutal work camp for more than two years. To say the book was intense would be an understatement. It forever changed how I look at World War II and the empathy I have for those currently living in war conditions. But while the book impacted me greatly, it is nowhere near the same as it would have been had I actually experienced it in real life. Thankfully, my brain is able to sort the fantasy from the real and allow me to continue living my life in a normal fashion. (Same is true for those who enjoy playing violent video games.)

[Side note: My husband has a theory that video games can allow aggressive individuals to act out their aggression in a safe manner, thereby cutting down on the violent incidents in real life. This is just a theory and was not addressed in the book.]

I also wanted to address the chapter on sexism in gaming, which is where I disagree with what Dr. Kowert presents. Dr. Kowert presents research that says that any sexism stimulated by video games is short-lived (a few minutes). Increased play does not increase sexist or misogynist thoughts.

The beauty of internet gaming (and the internet in general) is that it can provide individualized communities that might be hard to foster otherwise. This allows youth in homogeneous environments the opportunity to virtually meet people from all over the world, therefore gaining the support they lack in their offline lives. 

However, just as love breeds love, hate breeds hate. I find it highly unlikely that a community that openly expresses hate in any way (be it towards gender, race, religion or sexual orientation) would not influence those involved. It is pretty darn hard for anyone to drown out words of hate on a consistent basis and not start to believe it themselves. 

Which brings me to another thought regarding online gaming: Can a video game be blamed if the community that plays it fosters hate? If a hate-spewing local film club decided to get together and spew hate while watching “Wizard of Oz,” would we blame the film? Probably not. But would we blame the film if the creators were making a monthly fee for hate-spewing clubs to watch it? Where is the line of responsibility when it comes to games and the online communities that surround them?

I know that I’m fighting Dr. Kowert’s research with my opinions, but this is based on my experience living in varied environments and socializing with wide-ranging groups of people. I encourage you to read this book and share your thoughts. 

Lastly, I want to touch on the amazing benefits of video games. Video games can improve goal setting, creative thinking, problem-solving, time management, initiative, visual information processing, and persistence in the face of difficult challenges. They can invoke a state of flow (a joyful and exciting state that is caused when in-game challenges are balanced with skill level). Video games can actually help those with ADD and ADHD focus because there are novel, stimulating tasks that offer immediate rewards.  

Let’s start the conversation! What are your thoughts and experiences regarding video games? In what ways have video games impacted (either positively or negatively) your life or the lives of those around you?

Signs of video game addiction:

  • Video game play dominates thoughts, emotions, and behavior.
  • Mood modification while playing (i.e. euphoria, tranquility or relaxation).
  • Heightened conflict in everyday life due to excessive gaming.
  • Develops a tolerance and needs to play more to achieve satisfaction.
  • Withdrawals from non-gaming activities.
  • Fails to reduce video game usage.

 If these signs are present for less than three months, this might just be a temporary infatuation. If signs persist, seek help from a mental health professional.

NOTE: I was contacted by Dr. Kowert’s publicity agency. In exchange for a free book, I offered to read and honestly review the book. The opinions presented here are truthful, and I was not paid or influenced in any way to change my opinion. I agreed to review the book because I thought it would be fun to read (it was) and would spark interesting conversations at home (it did!). Thank you for this opportunity!

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